With the NBA trade deadline just a month away, the rumor mill is heating up and cranking out one unsubstantiated rumor after another. But a lack of good sources never stopped any over analytical sports journalist, so expect more rumors until at least one shocking deal is made pre-deadline.
For all his talent and history with the Atlanta Hawks, Josh Smith’s name continues to be mentioned amongst the rumors. After a hot start to the season, it was widely believed that the Hawks would hang onto Smith and attempt to use him to lure his good friend Dwight Howard to Atlanta, the center’s hometown. A dip in Atlanta’s form has triggered the realization that the Hawks will not achieve anything more than the moderate success they’ve had in recent years, however, and the rumors are swirling once again.
Add to that the fact that Howard is not experiencing much joy in Laker land and could be moved before the trade deadline with his preferred target location showing interest, the Brooklyn Nets. General Manager Billy King is rumored to be attempting to create a package that could get Howard to the Big Apple and although the Lakers have said they intend to re-sign Howard after the season, the player’s discontent with Mike D’Antoni’s system and his role within the team combined with a good offer could tempt Los Angeles to not roll the dice on Howard leaving in the summer for nothing.
The effect this uncertainty has on Atlanta is that if Howard leaves L.A. and intends to sign in a new location, is it worth it to keep Smith? The foundation of Smith and Al Horford has seen the Hawks make the postseason but continuously fail to make it very far. To keep Smith in Atlanta would take a significant investment of probably $16-$17 million a season, but is it worth it to continue what they’ve been doing just to have him stay? The answer is no and Smith’s agent knows it suggesting that three teams interest the player: Houston, Memphis and Dallas.
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DO THOSE OPTIONS WORK FOR A TRADE?
Of the three locales that interest Smith, only Houston has pieces in place to make an offer that could really entice Hawks General Manager Danny Ferry into a deal. Memphis could offer Rudy Gay for Smith in a straight swap, but that seems unlikely considering Memphis just dealt away $6 million in salary in a trade with Cleveland so that they could keep their starting core together for one more playoff run. Also, Ferry would be reluctant to give up Smith’s expiring deal to take on Gay’s contract, which is set to increase to over $17 million next year, just to acquire a guy who shoots similar percentages to Smith but doesn’t rebound as well.
While Mark Cuban is a masterful deal maker, Dallas doesn’t have the pieces in place to be able to offer the Hawks anything to trade for except for maybe a draft pick and cash which won’t be enough. If Smith ends up in Big D, that will somehow transpire in the offseason.
Houston on the other hand could offer up a package deal that includes a young talent like Terrence Jones, a semi-established replacement like Patrick Patterson or Marcus Morris as well as a draft pick or cash considerations. It’s a deal that would help Atlanta kick start their rebuilding project by dumping even more salary and bringing in young guys with decent value and a first round pick, but for Houston the deal makes less sense as re-signing Smith would essentially max out their payroll for the foreseeable future to create a team that still wouldn’t be in the championship conversation.
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Rumors don’t stop with what a player would like though. Other teams mentioned in the Smith sweepstakes include Boston, Milwaukee, Toronto and even, that’s right, we couldn’t escape another paragraph without coming back to the Lakers.
Of these teams, Boston is one of the more interesting rumors although it would involve one of two unlikely circumstances. One is tying in a third team willing to take on Jeff Green’s $8 million a year deal, a tough sell but not completely impossible. The other would involve Boston moving one of their two best players in Paul Pierce or Rajon Rondo. There is no way Rondo is going anywhere as he is the Celtics franchise player. Pierce is a guy who has played 14 seasons in Celtic green, but as Kendrick Perkins will attest to, sentiment isn’t Danny Ainge’s strong suit. A deal could be made and it would be enticing to the Hawks since only a third of the $15 million Pierce is owed next year is guaranteed, but it’s more likely the Celtics will hang onto that for themselves.
A deal with Milwaukee would most likely only be struck if Ferry could acquire a draft pick and a player like Monta Ellis or Ellis and the league’s best shot blocker this season in Larry Sanders. That is a deal Milwaukee would most likely reject given that there is little chance Smith would re-sign with the team.
Toronto is rumored simply because they are known to be shopping for a new home for Andrea Bargnani and they’re disappointed they missed out on Rudy Gay. The reality of the situation is that this one is pure speculation and is the least likely deal on the table, especially considering that the Italian makes $11 million per season. Unless Toronto was going to tie in the expiring contract of Jose Calderon and a draft pick plus cash or another player Atlanta could use, it’s not going to happen. That type of investment would be foolish for the Raptors to make anyhow since they face the same issue as Milwaukee knowing that Smith probably wouldn’t sign a new contract with them.
That just leaves Los Angeles and the possibility of Smith linking up with Howard in the City of Angels. The problem with this rumor is that it’s a bit ridiculous, implying that Ferry would be willing to take on Pau Gasol and his $19 million contract for next season. That remains very unlikely and whether or not Smith fits better into D’Antoni’s system than Gasol is questionable.
So does Josh Smith stay or go from Atlanta? It’s tough to say. Too much of it comes down to Howard and what is going to happen with him. If he were to sign a new deal with Los Angeles or be traded and sign in a new location, Ferry has no choice but to move Smith. But if Howard’s situation remains up in the air, the Hawks have to keep Smith and hope that they can use him as a lure for the most powerful center in the game. It will require patience and some smart dealing to find a new home for Al Horford, but if Ferry can pull it off, the Hawks would go from middle playoff seed to title contender with Howard’s pen stroke. If it goes the other way and Smith is traded, it will take a master stroke just to maintain Atlanta’s status quo.